Singapore sees 1st full crew change under new COVID-19 compliant guidelines

The first seafarers to benefit from the use of chartered flight to comply with the new crew change protocol, developed by the Singapore Crew Change Working Group (SGCCWG), finally disembarked the bulk carrier Genco Liberty at the Port of Singapore on 6 June.

Wilhelmsen Ships Service
crew change
Crew embarks vessel. Image by: Wilhelmsen Ships Service

The signing off crew have completed their contracts onboard, Wilhelmsen, which coordinated the crew change for Synergy Group, said.

The nineteen-men Indian crew will now return home via a chartered flight from Singapore to Colombo and then on to India. Their colleagues made up of fourteen Sri Lankans and four Indian seafarers who arrived at Singapore from Sri Lanka early this morning, also via the same chartered flight, signed on the same day.  

“At Synergy Group we have desperately been trying to conduct crew changes since the outbreak of COVID-19. In early March, we proposed the idea of a safe corridor for seafarers to facilitate crew changes, founded an alliance of … maritime companies in April to push for collective crew changes and most recently have been one of the participants in the Singapore Crew Change Working Group. It is no accident that this latest success has been achieved in partnership with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore government,” Captain Rajesh Unni, founder and CEO of ship management company, the Synergy Group, commented.

“By enabling a full complement of Sri Lanka and Indian seafarers to join and disembark this GENCO Shipping & Trading bulk carrier, through this well planned and controlled changeover, they have shown the world that crew changeovers for seafarers of other nationalities are possible even during a pandemic.”

In the current environment, where the impact and restrictions relating to the pandemic remain fluid in many places, the expectation is that the coordination of crew change will continue to be a challenge.

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Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, crew change can take place in Singapore under procedures established by MPA. The new guidelines provide both predictability and a solid foundation for safe crew changes in substantially larger numbers than seen in the last few months. In that regard, the new clear, consistent guidelines could become the blueprint for port authorities elsewhere when looking at reopening for crew changes.

Specifically, on-signers of the Genco Liberty were asked to remain in home quarantine for 14 days and tested negative for COVID-19 before their departure flight. They were met at the airport by an agent with a private transport that complied with safe distancing measures. Face masks and hand sanitisation were also provided for all arriving crew.

For the crew signing-off, an approved medical doctor certified that all crew members were fit-to-travel prior to sign-off. There was no sharing of passenger launch boats for crew and service engineers/technicians. The crew members were conveyed in private transport that complied with safe distancing measures, and fresh face masks and hand sanitisation were provided for all crew before boarding the vehicles.

crew change
Crew in van going to pier. Image by: Wilhelmsen Ships Service

“Singapore continues to facilitate crew change under established procedures, in view of the ongoing pandemic. These procedures elaborated in the Singapore Crew Change Guidebook are the efforts of many stakeholders including many Singapore government agencies, the Singapore Shipping Association leading an industry taskforce, and the Singapore Maritime Officers Union,” Quah Ley Hoon, Chief Executive of MPA, said.

“We are glad that together with Wilhelmsen and the Synergy Group, and by using a chartered flight, we have been able to help 37 crew members sign-on and sign off. Such chartered flights provide an effective means of crew change under the established procedures.”

The new crew change protocols published in the COVID-19 Singapore Crew Change Guidebook were developed in accordance with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS)’s Framework of Crew Change Protocol and MPA’s Port Marine Circular (PMC) 26 of 2020. 

The guidebook is issued by MPA, Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) and Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union (SMOU), and in cooperation with the International Maritime Employers’ Council Ltd (IMEC) and the World Shipping Council (WSC).